You may know them by the infamous blue shirt they wear, by the friendly “hello” or “can I help you find something” they offer as you peruse the aisles or by their vast product knowledge and unending commitment to customer service. These characteristics make up the Heinen’s associate.
At Heinen’s, we believe “you have to find the best to sell the best,” and this includes finding the best people! Our vision begins with those who wear the Heinen’s blue shirt; they are what makes shopping with Heinen’s memorable and enjoyable.
So, let’s get to know the people behind the blue shirt! Today, we’re talking to Patrick, Meat Manager at Heinen’s Willoughby whos long family history in the meat industry has inspired his undeniable passion for educating Heinen’s customers on how to effortlessly prepare meat like a pro!
How long have you worked at Heinen’s and what has your Heinen’s journey looked like?
I have been with Heinen’s for 5 years and I have always worked in the Meat Department. I started my career at Heinen’s Pepper Pike location and then moved over to Shaker Heights and Mentor. Today, I am the Meat Manager at Heinen’s Willoughby.
Did you have experience in the meat industry prior to working at Heinen’s?
Yes! I have been working in the meat industry for over 30 years, and my passion for meat runs in my family. My father and four older brothers are also meat cutters, so as soon as I was old enough to safely hold and operate a knife, I was making sausage and learning the many different cuts of meat.
When I was 16, I got a job at a local family butcher shop and over the years I’ve spent time working in the meat department at retailers like Tops and Super K Mart. However, when my brother got a job working at Heinen’s, he quickly put me in touch with their team of meat experts and I knew right away that we shared the same passions. I’ve been with Heinen’s ever since!
What does your typical day look like as a Heinen’s Meat Manager?
Everyday can look a little different, but one of my priorities is making sure my team understands our goals for each day and each week. Whether it’s going over sale items or ensuring the product in our cases meets our quality standards, having a common goal allows us to best serve our customers and our company.
In terms of day-to-day technical tasks, I jump in wherever help is needed. If I need to cut meat, I’ll cut meat. If I need to work the floor, I’ll work the floor. I personally enjoy when my workday involves cutting meat. After so many years of honing my cutting skills, it feels like an artistry.
What kind of training do you receive as a Heinen’s Meat Manager or Associate?
Most Meat Associates at Heinen’s come in with some experience, but everyone receives training in one form or another.
If a meat associate has limited experience, I will usually have them work the floor for at least the first six months so that they can take the time to learn the various cuts of meat and develop a keen eye for what differentiates a good cut from a bad cut. Anyone can identify cuts of meat, but determining quality meat from poor meat takes practice.
Six months may seem long, but spending time studying each cut of meat on the floor actually makes it easier to learn to cut later on.
What services can a Meat Manager or Meat Associate provide to Heinen’s customers?
It’s easy to quickly to rattle off a cook time and temperature when asked how to prepare a cut of meat, but at Heinen’s, we truly love educating our customers on our meat. Whether it’s sharing where our meat comes from, or providing expert advise on how to best season and cook a cut, myself and all of the Meat Associates at Heinen’s have the knowledge and passion to help our customers feel confident cooking with meat – all you have to do is ask!
Heinen’s Meat Managers and Associates can also open your eyes to new ways to serve meat. For example, Heinen’s premium Wagyu beef is typically served as a fillet and can come across as intimidating and unapproachable to the everyday home cook. In an effort to change this perception, a Meat Associate on my team sliced it thin for a steak sandwich and our entire team loved the result. We started offering to thin-slice our Wagyu for customers, and as soon as we received a positive response, we started selling it in our fresh meat case for all customers to enjoy!
For me, a good Meat Manager is genuine, passionate and always willing to help our customers feel good about the food they’re buying, cooking and serving!
How does Heinen’s Meat Department compare to the traditional butcher shop?
I’ve worked for small butcher shops and larger retailers and the service, expertise and transparency you find in Heinen’s Meat Department is about as close to any old school butcher as you can get! We believe in knowing our sources and go above and beyond to find farmers and ranchers who will uphold our standards for quality and animal welfare. That’s not easy to find at your average grocery store.
Which items from our Meat Department do you recommend for those who may not be comfortable purchasing and cooking meat?
It all depends on the season. During the colder fall and winter months, I recommend a chuck roast. They’re hearty and extremely easy to prepare. Simply toss it in the slow cooker with carrots and potatoes and set it and forget it until dinnertime.
When temperatures warm up in the spring and summer, you can’t go wrong with a ribeye steak. They require no seasoning other than salt and pepper and can easily be cooked on the grill or in a pan.
Which items in the Meat Department make Heinen’s Meat Department special?
It’s tough to pick a favorite because there’s special qualities to all of our meat, but our premium Wagyu beef is a real star. Raised in the Midwest and full of buttery texture, beautiful marbling and melt-in-your-mouth flavor, you can’t go just anywhere and find something of that quality that is also reasonably priced. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do!
How have you seen Heinen’s Meat Department grow and evolve over time?
We’ve made great progress in the way we package our meat. Over the last few years, we have transitioned to cryovac seal packaging, and unlike our former Styrofoam alternative, this new plastic package locks in freshness and allows for better visibility of the product when purchasing. It’s also completely recyclable and freezer friendly, which results in better quality meat for you and less waste for the environment.
If you could spend a day working in any other department, which department would it be?
I think I would enjoy working in the Bakery. The smell of the fresh bread baking in the ovens each day drives me crazy in a good way!
What is your favorite item from the Meat Department?
Niman Ranch has some of the best pork I’ve ever eaten! I love their long bone pork chop because you get the pork chop and the spare rib altogether.
What is your favorite product to buy at Heinen’s?
Any kind of pasta! I’m not picky, so any brand and any shape works for me!
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I love to cook in general, but my favorite thing to cook is Cajun food. Although I was born and raised in Cleveland, my mom is from Louisiana and my dad is from Alabama, so there was a lot of southern influence in my food growing up!
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
I enjoy working outdoors in my garden. I grow a little bit of everything!
Why do you love working at Heinen’s?
The people! When you work at Heinen’s, you feel like you have a network of people you can count on. If you need anything, everyone is willing to help, including Tom and Jeff Heinen.
I also think that the way associates are treated internally allows us to serve our customers in the same way. We truly enjoy helping people in our communities, and the relationships that we get to form with our customers as a result is pretty special.